An American Weekend: Carroll Gardens

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For many Americans, like Yolanda Cepeda, the Fourth of July is an opportunity to celebrate traditional and ethnic cultures simultaneously.

Yolanda Cepeda, a 36-year-old Puerto Rican native, said she uses festive holidays such as the Fourth of July to celebrate her American pride and her native culture simultaneously. (Gabriel Charles Tyler/The Brooklyn Ink)

Yolanda Cepeda uses the Fourth of July to celebrate her American pride and her Puerto Rican culture simultaneously.
Gabriel Charles Tyler/The Brooklyn Ink

For many Americans who did not grow up in the fifty states, like Yolanda Cepeda, a 36-year-old native Puerto Rican, it can be hard to understand the significance of some American holidays. But the Fourth of July is an opportunity to celebrate new and old cultures at the same time.

Cepeda thinks that nothing says Happy Fourth of July quite like spending time with family while enjoying barbecued food. “I’m going to my mom’s house — we’re going to have a barbecue,” Cepeda said a couple of days before the Forty. “She has a swimming pool in Long Island. We’re going to just get together with family and friends, and just enjoy the Fourth of July.”

Newer generations of Latinos in the U.S.—who are bicultural and often bilingual—have created an identity rooted in both their Latino culture and their American pride. This dual identity is evident in the fusion of popular American food with Latin American cuisine during holiday celebrations.

“We’re going to have the hamburgers, the hot dogs, but you know we always gotta cook the rice and the beans, the pernil [roasted pork], maybe some platanillos [small fried plaintains] and stuff like that,” Cepeda said.

While family and food are crucial to any holiday festivity, it wouldn’t be a true celebration of Independence Day without a few fireworks. It’s become a tradition for Cepeda and her husband to spend the day together watching fireworks.

“I’ll probably go to Manhattan and watch the fireworks,” Cepeda said. “Just me and my husband.”

But this year is quite special for Cepeda’s family because it will be the first time in years that they can all get together to celebrate.

“Normally it’s just me and [my husband], but this year my family wanted to do something big so that we could all get together,” Cepeda said.

Cepeda’s family is big. Since some of them still live in Puerto Rico and others are spread across the U.S.—spanning across four U.S. cities and five New York boroughs—it can be extremely difficult for them to celebrate every holiday together. The Fourth of the July is one of the few holidays in which it is easy for people to take vacations and travel because it’s in the summer.

“I have family that’s coming from Puerto Rico, family from Manhattan, Harlem… I have family in the Bronx,” Cepeda said. “We’re all coming together. We’re going to have a nice get together, like a family reunion.”

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